State Rep. Shevrin Jones and former congressional candidate Tim Canova were among several panelists Tuesday who spoke to a committee charged with reviewing voter disenfranchisement throughout the state.
The panelists appeared at the Broward County Main Library to speak before the Florida Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The event began at 10 a.m. and ran throughout the day, featuring a quartet of panels with three to four speakers each.
Jones and Canova began their talk as part of one of the afternoon panels. Jones led the discussion by noting the significance of the topic at hand.
“It’s an important conversation that we should be having not just here in Florida, but it’s something that we should be speaking about on a national level,” Jones said.
With regard to Florida, Jones highlighted legislation passed last Session that required ex-felons to pay fines and fees in order to have their voting rights restored.
According to the measure’s backers, that implementing legislation was needed to clarify the language of Amendment 4, which was approved by voters in Nov. 2018 and allowed nonviolent ex-felons to regain their right to vote upon completion of their sentence.
The law’s supporters have pointed to testimony from the amendment’s original backers, stating that repayment of fine would be a necessary part of “completing” a person’s sentence. But Jones maintained the bill was a last-minute effort to reduce the number of ex-cons who would have their voting rights restored.
“If we are serious about people participating within democracy, then we should be very keen on making sure people have the access to it,” Jones argued.
Canova was defeated by Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary during that cycle. Afterward, he sought to investigate alleged voting irregularities in the race.
But when he pushed then-Broward Supervisor Brenda Snipes to turn over those ballots for inspection, her office informed him that they had been destroyed.
A judge ruled that decision by Snipes violated the law.
“The destruction of evidence in a lawsuit can raise a negative inference. It certainly raised some inferences in my mind,” Canova said.
Canova, who has been accused of pushing “conspiracy theories” in the aftermath of that episode, also lamented the fact that no federal charges were pursued against Snipes’ office. He alleged that was due to Wasserman Schultz’ political connections in Washington, D.C.
“To me it struck me as organized crime,” Canova argued.
Testifying alongside Jones and Canova were Duncan Buell, a professor of computational science and engineering at the University of South Carolina, and Susan Pynchon, Executive Director of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition.
The two focused their presentations on more granular issues that could suppress the vote.
Buell highlighted the issue of long voting lines, a problem which has plagued South Carolina in the past.
“Not having enough resources does create longer lines,” Buell said.
“And longer lines, with a suppressed vote, affect minority voters more than they affect nonminority voters.”
Pynchon took aim at voting via machines, a practice she argued was rife with problems.
“You could have 50 people in this room all voting at the same time on a paper ballot. But if you have a voting machine that costs $3,500, one person can vote on that machine,” Pynchon said.
“All over our country people are trying to buy these ballot marking devices. They are unnecessary. Why are we adding a layer of complexity, a layer of problems, when people can simply mark a paper ballot?”
Canova agreed with the push to paper ballots.
“That’s the ideal if you want a truly transparent, verifiable election that has the confident and trust of the American people,” Canova said.
“It’s time to ban the machines.”
Pynchon also had harsh words for Broward County, the site of Tuesday’s talk. She pointed to the county’s ballot design, which placed the 2018 U.S. Senate race between Bill Nelson and Rick Scott in the bottom left corner, alone, under the instructions.
Election analysts have said that placement could have cost Nelson thousands of votes in a race he lost by just over 10,000 votes.
“Is it disparaging to say that Broward County could be the poster child for voter disenfranchisement?” Pynchon asked.